Saturday 17 December 2022

Advent 2022 - Fast Tracking #21


Today's Challenge: Fast from... all highly processed foods.

As a household we don't eat a great deal of highly processed food but as I said in my introductory post, virtually any foodstuff acquired in the supermarket has been processed in some way or other. To be 100% rigorous with this challenge one would more or less need to restrict oneself to food grown from scratch by oneself or foraged. At this time of year, the pickings would be very lean indeed so I've compromised by taking a more pragmatic approach that allows basic raw ingredients, processed for preservation and sale, but excludes anything composite or with a lot of extra ingredients added. I've also decided to allow any processing that is done by myself prior to consumption.

The only food that this immediately eliminates for me is the soya milk I drink in my tea first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I've tried to include as much home grown food as I can despite the time of year ie the frozen homegrown grape juice, bottled apple juice and sun-dried tomatoes. I tried to grow a tray or two of  micro-greens over the last couple of weeks but they haven't grown at all well on account of the bitter cold and the poor light levels so that's been a bit of a fail. The honeycomb is not home produced by me but it does come direct from a beekeeper a few miles away.  

For tea time I made some panforte di Siena which is a kind of Sienese Medieval energy bar really - a combination of dried figs, candied peel, raw nuts, spices and honey. Normally I save time by using at least some of the spices pre-ground but today I used all the spices whole and blitzed them together in the spice grinder - my considered verdict is that it was worth the trouble. This batch of panforte is probably the best I've come up with, so far. 

Spices for panforte clockwise from top left - aniseed, blades of mace, cloves, black peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds and in the centre, grains of Paradise (a type of scented peppercorn)

I quite often make panforte at Christmastime - the mixture divides neatly into two 20cm tins - I usually keep one to eat and give the other away. It's a straightforward recipe, easy to package and keeps very well. I like it with a cup of tea at the end of the day or with a tiny glass of some liqueur or other, at the end of a winter meal. 

I bake each round on a disc of rice paper  to make it easy to extract from the tin and put another rice paper disc on top as it's quite sticky and this makes it easier to cut and eat. 

The trick with panforte, I've found, is not to cook it at too high a temperature or for too long as this is what can make it tough and over-chewy which is not nearly so nice. I use a version of Felicity Cloake's 'perfect panforte' recipe from The Guardian here but only cook it at 150 ℃ for about 25 minutes. It goes without saying that you need good quality dried figs - soft ones - and ideally, homemade candied peel, not those nasty tubs of dry, pre-cut stuff. You can use whatever nuts you like. I tend to use just almonds - raw almonds and some ground ones as well for cohesion. You can also vary the spices a bit depending on your personal taste. Tradition stipulates that the recipe should contain at least seventeen ingredients - one for each of the seventeen 'contrade', or 'districts', of Siena.

black tea
frozen raw home-grown grape juice (defrosted)
an orange
oatcakes with raw honeycomb

yoghurt cheese, sourdough crackers
mango with lime zest and juice

black tea
panforte di Siena

potatoes baked in their jackets with watercress, sun-dried home-grown tomatoes and toasted walnut salad 
whole pears poached in home-pressed apple juice with whole star anise, a piece of vanilla pod and raw honey

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